Preacher: Season 1, Episode 9 – “Finish the Song”

Worlds come crashing together in perhaps the best episode of the series thus far.

Go big or go home. This was surely a notion in the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin when they decided to tackle Steve Dillon’s wild ride of a comic series, Preacher. Thus far, going big is what the show does best. Thankfully, after a couple of small, isolated episodes, the show is back to its old, world-building insanity, making for perhaps the best episode of the series with “Finish the Song”.

While the mythology of the show is certainly furiously expanding throughout this week’s episode — which we’ll touch on in a bit — a large part of “Finish the Song” was actually bringing our main characters back together after some rather explosive disagreements. When we saw Tulip (Ruth Negga) feeding Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) a live dog last week, we were given no indication of just how serious his injuries really were. It isn’t until Tulip enlists the help of her new, unlikely companion Emily (Lucy Griffiths) that we see how the burns Cassidy sustained from the sun have stripped away all his stoner charm and brought his more animalistic nature to the surface.

Watching him devour rodents of all kinds isn’t nearly as frightening as seeing how much Emily’s been affected by recent events. Once the docile church girl, it’s been clear for some time that she longs for a life more like Tulip’s: full of excitement, passion, and a loose interpretation of the rules. The audience is with her in this regard, but it’s still quite jarring when, after an attentive viewing of Psycho, Emily sets a plan in motion to help Cassidy by feeding him her “boyfriend”, Mayor Miles Person (Ricky Mabe). It isn’t necessarily a turn toward evil for Emily, but it definitely marks the end of Ms. Nice Church Girl, making her a much more interesting character going forward.

Jesse (Dominic Cooper), who’s on the run after easily escaping Sheriff Root’s (W. Earl Brown) less-than-stellar custody, eventually shows up and does his best to make up with his friend whom he last saw burning to a crisp outside of the church. A severely burnt and still sickly Cassidy is fairly quick to forgive, and it isn’t long before the duo is back to their old ways, sharing quips and disposing of a dead body. It’s strange to say, but in recent weeks Cassidy has proven to be perhaps the most sentimental of characters on Preacher, seemingly heavily invested in his friendship with Jesse, and willing to do whatever it takes to keep him on the right track, even if that lesson comes with third-degree burns.

The less sentimental Tulip doesn’t seem all that affected by recent events, carrying herself with the same bravado we’ve seen since she was first introduced biting ears and blowing up helicopters. After leaving instructions with Emily, she’s off to exact revenge on the mysterious Carlos (Desmin Borges). Honestly, I’m not sure I quite see how her plan for vengeance fits into the story, but her departing line to Emily, “I’m going to kill a man in Albuquerque” all but makes up for it. (Side note: It also had me hoping for a little AMC-universe crossover).

The real stars of “Finish the Song”, though, are the angels and the cowboy who, unbeknownst to the audience, are on a collison course from the beginning of the episode. In recent weeks, usually during the opening segment, we’ve seen the progression of a short, contained story involving a cowboy seeking revenge for the death of his family. The butcher of Gettysburg, as he’s called by the old-west preacher, is a man with a violent past who begins “Finish the Song” by bringing that violence to the present. In a Tarantino-esque scene of over-the-top bloodshed, the Cowboy (Graham McTavish) seemingly kills the entire town before sitting at the bar for a strong drink.

At first, this seems like just another installment in this ancillary, yet interesting, story that we can only guess will somehow come to mean something more in the larger picture. But later in the episode, we return, only to watch the sequence play out again, albeit an abbreviated version. At first it’s unclear what Rogen, Goldberg, Catlin, and team are up to, but as the loop continues it becomes clear that this tale isn’t historical but something much more supernatural, a kind of sadistic Groundhog Day with a far higher body count.

This idea is finally confirmed at the end of “Finish the Song” when Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatole Yusef) show up in Ratwater. Throughout the episode, the two are struggling with whether a trip to Hell really is their best option, continuing their trend as the goofy, somewhat bumbling, comic relief. Finally, they accept the fact and head for a local travel agency, which, we soon learn, specializes in trips to the underworld. Their bus ride, which ends up in the bloodied old-west tavern just as the Cowboy sits down for a drink, confirms the supernatural nature of his situation, but Fiore and DeBlanc’s proposition promises to bring him out of his own personal Hell for a very specific mission: kill a preacher.

It is funny how an episode as good as “Finish the Song” can put the previous two, which were meandering at best, into a larger perspective. The pacing seems more appropriate now that it is clear how the various worlds presented by Preacher are all poised to come crashing together as we enter the home stretch of what amounts to an excellent first season. Sticking the landing may prove difficult, but if “Finish the Song” is any indication, organized chaos is the show’s most endearing quality.

RATING 9 / 10